Zak of All Trades: The sweet soundtracks of summer

There's just something about rolling down the windows and turning up the radio, isn't there?

I'm sure that I'm not the only one who loves to do it, though some might say that I'm getting too old to do so.

But an afternoon on the front porch by any main road will reveal dozens of cars heading up and/or down it with music pumping out the speakers and out the windows.

We all have these songs that get us pumped up for summer. There are old favorites and new songs that tune us into the new vibe of a particular summer. When you combine them, we have quite a soundtrack.

Soundtracks aren't something you hear all that much about anymore. When I was a kid, every popular movie released a soundtrack, and I owned several of them.

"Space Jam," one of my favorite movies as a kid — criticize me if you must — had a stellar soundtrack — again, a statement open to criticism now that I'm thinking back on it — that featured R. Kelly's "I Believe I Can Fly," a song that was popular before he became a bit of a pop music villain.

Some of my favorites from that album, which I wore out over the course of a few years, included "Hit 'Em High (The Monstars' Anthem)," "Basketball Jones," (featuring the well-known comedian Chris Rock in a rare musical performance) and "Buggin," performed by who else but Bugs Bunny.

OK. I'm going to be honest with you. While some of these songs bring back a nostalgic feeling, I wouldn't consider them a part of my listening repertoire anymore, and I certainly wouldn't put them on my soundtrack for summer this year.

But with the windows rolled down in the hot, humid weather we've had, I decided to compile a list of songs that I would be purchasing to add to my playlist if I were the sort of guy to pay for music online.

Downloading illegally's not my thing, either, so I usually settle for whatever is on my favorite radio stations. But if nothing else, these are the songs that I crank up when they come on the radio.

• Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama" — Part of what makes me crank this one up as soon as it comes on is the fact that the first thing they tell us is, "Turn it up." The catchy lyrics and beat that makes you tap your toes don't hurt either, and this classic is one that you'll find on my summer soundtrack each and every year.

• Phil Vassar's "Six Pack Summer" — This song was released in 2000, the year that I graduated high school, and while some may not believe me, I didn't crack my first beer until about seven years later when I was 25. And still, the catchy tune about cruisin' down the road while drumming on the dashboard and escaping the long, cold winters was one of my favorites.

Cruising with a six pack still isn't — and never will be — my thing, so I've always been more of a six pack of root beer summer kind of guy. A theme's developing, too. This song also tells us to "turn the radio up as loud as it can go." Consider it done, Phil.

• Little Big Town's "Pontoon" — Boating has never been my thing, mostly because I hate all things that have anything to do with water. Still, there's something appealing about dancing across the tops of the waves and heading for the horizon on a boat, which is exactly why this song has been added to my summer playlist.

I know nothing about boats, but even I know that catching some waves would be a great way to beat this heat.

• Joe Nichols' "Sunny and 75" — This song is the latest addition to the list, and I must say that it describes my perfect idea of summer weather.

Temperatures higher than 75 degrees make me wish for more air conditioning, while high temperatures in the 60s make for chillier nights than we expect this time of year. If it could be sunny and 75 every day, I'd be OK with that.

Now sure, this song is a bit of a romantic one, but I just ignore those parts and daydream about utopian weather for a few minutes every time this one comes on.

• The Beach Boys' "Kokomo" — There's just something about The Beach Boys that screams summer — probably the fact that every single one of their songs sounds exactly the same and has a strictly beach-related summer theme. Still, I just wouldn't feel right if I were to leave this summery band off my list. While I am a bit ashamed to admit it, Beach Boys' greatest hits album was one that I owned, and it was certainly one that I used multiple times on youth group trips to bother the snot out of my peers and counselors.

• Kid Rock's "All Summer Long" — I feel like it's only fitting to finish this short playlist of summer with a song that pays tribute to the first song on the list. This song mentions all sorts of activities that will get you in the mood for summer, accompanied by a pretty good beat, including singing "Sweet Home Alabama," all summer long. Sounds like my kinda summer.

For some, I suppose this column may seem a little bit boring. But my point goes beyond recommending some summer songs to you.

My point is that I think it's good to have soundtracks to our lives. Music helps us get through the tough times and celebrate the good ones. It surrounds us in all that we do.

Just this week, I finally got to catch my little second cousin's last T-ball game of the season. It was so much fun watching as Connor tore up the basepaths and cracked the ball all over the place.

After the game, we went out to eat, and with it being after the dinner rush, the music was turned up a bit for all to hear.

With each new song that came on, each of us around the table — from those my age to the two youngsters, one going into first grade and the other having just turned two — started bobbing our heads to the music.

The youngest, Anna, even started mimicking some of my motions and making them dance moves of her own. Even at the youngest age, we seem to be prone to dancing and enjoying the music.

In fact, as she danced and giggled at my and her brother's goofy dance moves, it helped bring us closer together. That's what music does for us all — it can unite us.

And what better time than the summer to come together under one playlist — diverse and eclectic — and just enjoy the music?

Zak Lantz is the editor of The Spirit, and while he's hating these warm, muggy temperatures, he sure is enjoying his summer playlist.